Few things make me happier than discovering a new cheese. Or a fabulous new cheesemaker. Imagine the bright fever that overcame me when I found a new Pennsylvania triple creme in the cooler at Greensgrow, my local urban farm, several months ago. It was so lush, I began stalking the cheesemaker on Instagram (@milkhousecheese), which led to a coffee date, which led to a creamery visit, all of which leads you and me to this…
On Friday, March 13, I’ll be at Greensgrow Farm in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood for a special tasting with cheesemaker Stefanie Angstadt of Valley Milkhouse. We’ll enjoy her line of glorious French-style cheeses and pair them with local libations, including hard cider from Philadelphia Brewing Co. and gin from Rowhouse Spirits — both distilleries are practically within a few blocks of the farm. If you’ve never sipped gin with cheese, prepare thyself. Flavors of juniper and chamomile love extra luxe dairy. Rowhouse distiller Dean Browne will join us, too, for some incredible pairing geekery!
This special tasting is designed to reel in spring — we’ll feast in Greenshgrow’s greenhouse beneath twinkle lights and hanging baskets, and dip into some of the preserves that staffers put up before winter. Come join us for a special evening of local dairy and hootch! It’s sure to be one of the most memorable events of the year. Click here for tickets.
About Valley Milkhouse: In its first year of operation, this one-woman creamery transforms local sheep’s milk and organic pasture-based cow’s milk to produce a variety of French cheese styles at a historic milkhouse in Oley, PA. You can recognize these cheeses around Philly because they are all named after wild plants: Lamb’s Ear, Thistle, Witchgrass, Blue Bell. Look for them in cases at Greensgrow, Di Bruno Bros., Fair Food Farmstand, and Talula’s Daily. Valley Milkhouse is also a new vendor at the Clark Park Farmers’ Market.
More Cheese Events…
Come find me at the Di Bruno Bros. table and meet Anna Juhl of Cheese Journeys — we can tell you about the Cheddar Odyssey coming up this fall! Plus, there’s a cheese and beer cave, and a private tasting with cheese expert Max McCalman.
Hang out and pair wines and cheeses with these two cheese impresarios. This event is a private tasting at Di Bruno Bros. 9th St. Tickets $90.
Check out the incredible line-up of local cheeses. This is a master class, followed by a special dinner. Tickets $85.
Back in December, I trekked out to Shellbark Hollow Farm with a television crew from WHYY, my local PBS affiliate. The producer, Monica Rogozinski, wanted to shoot an episode of her popular “Art of Food” segment about the Philadelphia cheese scene. I wrote this post to coincide with the show’s airing, this week on WHYY Friday Arts. In case you missed it, click here to watch The Art of Food segment on Madame Fromage!
When I moved to Philadelphia a decade ago, the first local goat cheese I tasted was a creamy flavor bomb called Shellbark Sharp II. Most soft goat cheeses are grassy little things, bright and tangy, but not what you’d call assertive. Shellbark Sharp II is a bruiser, “a chèvre with attitude,” as its maker, Pete Demchur, likes to say.
Pete’s a legend in the Philadelphia cheese scene, an industrial machinast who makes cheese by night. He welds all of his own equipment and operates out of his bachelor pad — a cozy cabin surrounded by sprawl — just outside the city. In a land of swing sets and patio furniture, Pete milks goats, fixes old cars, and mans his cheese cave which is made out of a jiggered Pepsi fridge.
It’s the life of a successful DIY cheesemaker.
Since I first tasted Pete’s cheese, I’ve been curious to see his operation. Visiting his closet-sized cheese room reminded me that a little entrepreneurial elbow grease and a willingness to work with limited space can produce something rather exquisite.
Pete’s hobby began with a pair of goats named Natalie and Nelly — a father’s day gift. Nearly twenty years later, his hand-made hunks appear all over the city, from Talula’s Daily and Metropolitan Bakery to Di Bruno Bros. and the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market.
Two things from our interview with Pete stand out: 60-70% of what he earns from selling cheese get spent on labor and feed. (He employs helpers at the farm and at farmers’ markets, and he buys locally grown western alfalfa — quality feed equals quality cheese). Also, I’ve never heard anyone speak so lovingly about buck genetics.
“Cold Comfort Lafayette,” Pete kept saying, referring to a favorite buck. All I could think of was how great that name was — hopefully, Pete will name a cheese after him.
One of my favorite pairings: Shellbark Sharp II crostini with dried figs, walnuts, fresh thyme, and a drizzle of buckwheat honey.
A big thanks to Monica Rogozinski of WHHY for taking interest in Pennsylvania cheese. And to Pete Demchur for taking a day off work to participate in this filming.
Over the last year, illustrator Johanna Kindvall and I have collaborated on a series of posts devoted to seasonal cheeses. “Winter Blues” is the last of our 4-part project (links below to the other three posts). To celebrate, we designed a blue-cheese pairing party. We hope it inspires you to lower the lights, fire up the turntable, and invite a few cheese-loving friends over for soulful nibbling.
Cheers! — Madame Fromage & Johanna Kindvall
Winter Blues: A Pairing Party
by Madame Fromage
Late winter is an ideal time to host an Around the World with Blue Cheese party. In the cold months, who doesn’t dream of traveling abroad? Since so many countries make iconic blues, it’s delightful to take one’s taste buds on a cruise from Stilton to Roquefort, then home again for a taste of artisan American funk.
Blues vary widely in taste and texture. Some swing savory with notes of creamed spinach, fresh herbs, or even pine — while others deliver a sweet song to the tongue. Gorgonzola Dolce tastes like ice cream (try it with cherry jam and graham crackers), and Valdéon can deliver notes of grape and white chocolate. Other blues make me think of oysters – all minerals and brine. Exquisite.
Here’s what to do if you want to host a blue cheese pairing party:
1) Pick a wide range of blues, like the ones listed below – aim for five or six hunks, you’ll need ¼ or ½ pound each.
2) Invite 8 to 12 friends, and tell each person to bring an after-dinner drink: stout, barley wine, Scotch/whiskey, or a fortified wine (like Port, Madeira, or Sherry).
Then, set out all of your cheeses – let them come to room temperature before serving, and use notecards to label them – and garnish them with some grapes, dates or apricots, walnuts, berry jam, honey, and dark chocolate.
At your tasting party, let the blues talk. Try them one at a time with a variety of beverages. You’ll go through every glass in your cupboard. Between bites, you can eat grapes or baguette slices to cleanse your palate. At the end of the night, snap photos of your favorite pairings. If you forget, don’t worry – everyone will remember the night they came to your house for a blue cheese initiation.
Note: if you don’t want to mix too many kinds of alcohol, just pick dessert wines or stout/barleywines.
Five Iconic Blue Cheeses
Britain’s iconic blue is savory with hints of tobacco and leather. It’s sold in wheels with a cigar-colored rind, making its whole disposition rather grandfatherly. Think of it as a craggy, cozy old character – ideally suited for slushy days and a back-drop of scratchy folk records. “Potted Stilton” is sold in crocks – a sort of holiday treat. It’s soft and pungent, delicious with chutney and a plate of oaty biscuits. For a much-loved pairing, sip a glass of Port (or even Scotch). Stilton also loves stout.
Spain’s most famous blue is a “granny” cheese, sweet and a little salty with a shawl made of Sycamore leaves. Lean in and you’ll smell a damp cottage with a front walkway made of slate and violets sticking up between the cracks. Lovely for dessert, try serving it with a spot of dark chocolate – it has a hint of white chocolate on the finish, which is lovely to play off. Walnuts and honey are a fine pairing, too. Sherry and barleywine make especially good matches.
Italy produces a pair of twin blue cheeses, dolce (sweet) and piccante (sharp). Piccante loves pasta and is terrific shmeared on steak or stirred into white bean soup. Dolce loves a light clear honey and a crack of black pepper, alongside some pears – it’s so gooey, you can spoon it up like mousse. Try pairing it with a fruity lambic (Kriek) or barleywine.
Really good French Roquefort tastes like a cheese from the sea – salty and mineral bright. Its indigo veins shimmer, and its paste is the consistency of melting butter, thanks to sheep’s milk. Roquefort gains its extraordinary combination of flavors from aging in seaside caves that are famous for their “fleurines” – fissures that allow the damp air to circulate. Quality Roquefort (I like Carles), served with a chilled glass of Sauternes, will leave you speechless.
Rogue River Smokey
One of the great American artisan blues, RRS tastes like bacon in the form of cheese. It loves camping, pancakes, and long walks on the beach. Rogue Creamery, in Oregon, makes a dozen different blues, each one subtly different. This selection is gently smoked over hazelnut shells, making for a nutty, buttery rogue. Pair it with an achingly dark stout or a Manhattan.
Wondering how blue cheeses get their dark veins? They’re pierced with long needles. The piercings allow air to flow through the wheels, and that promotes “blue-ing.” Many people think that blue mold is injected into the cheese, but that’s not so. The “blue” develops naturally, thanks to a special culture (Penicillium Roqueforti) that cheesemakers stir into the curds. That said, “blue” likes to wander, so you’ll want to store your blue cheeses away from other cheeses in your fridge.
Earlier Posts in this Series…
Your Spring Goat Cheese Primer (part 1)
Late Summer Cheese Picnic (part 2)
Smoke and Funk: A Fall Cheese Board (part 3)
Have you ever thought about putting pink peppercorns in cheese? Or making a cheese sized for exactly one person? Why am I asking you this? This week I’ve been tracking a bunch of food predictions that are making their rounds as part of the post-holiday news cycle. Here are 4 trends worth noting if you orbit the cheese world as a maker, shaker, caterer, cook, or enthusiast…
Grub Street’s dining report predicts a deluge of ’80s era dishes and spices that will rock restaurant tables in 2015. Among them…pasta salad, the return of quiche (did it ever vanish?), and pink peppercorns. I’ve seen plenty of cheeses dotted with green and black ‘corns, like Piacentinu, Marco Polo, and Anton’s Peppered Ass, but is anyone using pink peppercorns…for Valentine’s? For drag show cheese boards? For princess parties? Come on, why not?
This Kickstarter campaign posted by 2 California brothers who plan to raise yaks (after experience in Tibet) suggests a new direction in dairy. Perhaps? Remember when I was all excited about camel cheese? That didn’t really fire up any bellies, but yak cheese could be the IT?! What do ya think, guys? At the very least, check out the yak cheese story…it illustrates the wild spirit of dairy entrepreneurs!
I won’t lie. I’ve fallen hard for making bone broth this winter, and I can’t think of anything lovelier to serve with a grilled cheese than a bowl of spiked bone broth. Emily Acosta (@_emilyacosta) brought this link to my attention this morning when I posted a photo of my homemade bone broth on Instagram — turns out this award-winning cheesemonger (Acosta works at Eataly in NYC) is a bone broth fan, too! One day I hope to toast her in person with some Glenlivet stirred into lamb broth.
Blogger Dianne Jacob writes about solo eating trends on her blog Will Write for Food, which can only mean one thing: cheesemakers might want to think about small-format cheeses designed for singles. No cheese singles puns, please. Think about the convenience of Saint Marcellin (sold in a small crock) and Banon (tiny, wrapped in leaves). As a solo lunch-eater who loves packing cheese into backpacks and handbags, I am rallying behind this one! (That cheese pictured up top is Wabash Cannonball — one of my favorite truffle-sized cheeses.)
On the horizon: This week I’m working on a cheese board with young-adult author (and my colleague) April Lindner who is launching her third YA novel, Love, Lucy. We’re picking out cheeses that represent her main characters to serve at her launch party on January 30 at Salem Vineyards in NJ. Take a peek at April’s blog for details; it’s open to fiction fans and YA readers, but please RSVP.
Back in November, I put out a call for an intern — after five years of solo blogging and writing, I had an itch to collaborate (in my mind, an internship is a shared experience and an exchange of ideas). Lo, the applications rolled in, and they were fantastic. Bowled over, I was. Who knew so many people aspired to learn about cheese and blogging?
Let me introduce the fabulous dames who will be working with me this spring: Erin Konigsdorffer (left)and Samantha Un (right). I feel such gratitude for their fresh eyes, minds, and mouths.
Erin Konigsdorffer is the designated cheese intern. She’s a senior Communications major at Saint Joseph’s University and brings web design experience, a keen interest in food photography, and a wild yen for cheese. In exchange for her design knowledge, she’s receiving a personalized dairy tutorial from Yours Truly. This week’s cheese was Nusskase — she likes Alpines. And washed rinds.
For a recent event with Discover My Italy, she developed her own line of dairy placards that we displayed with Italian cheeses. Erin plans to chronicle her cheese journey on Instagram (@Constant_Bliss).
Samantha Un is the official libations intern. (Remember that cocktail book I was frantically working on last summer?) Sam is an award-winning Communications professional with a beautiful blog called Her Savory Life. A few months ago, she left a cream job — after an awakening on the island of Naxos — to explore a new way of thinking and being. You can read about her quest on her site or in recent articles on Femme & Fortune and Brazen Life.
In addition to sipping some custom cocktails, Sam and I will be developing a new site called Sprig & Spirit — we’ll tell you more about it as it comes together. You can follow her world on Twitter (@hersavorylife) and Instagram (@hersavorylife_).